Pangdemonium’s Peter and the Starcatcher: An Interview with Tracie Pang, Adrian Pang and Carina McWhinnie
Pangdemonium returns for their final production of the season this September with a far lighter show than their usual fare – the Singaporean premiere of five-time Tony Award winning play Peter and the Starcatcher!
Based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s novel of the same name, itself a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Peter and the Starcatcher is a swashbuckling adventure on the high seas as the young Molly goes on a precarious voyage to a faraway island, protecting the mystical, powerful ‘starstuff’ from falling into the wrong hands. With this production, Pangdemonium will be adapting it for a local audience, newly setting it in 1885 Singapore and incorporating other Asian elements into the production. We spoke to director Tracie Pang, as well as performers Adrian Pang and Carina McWhinnie to find out a little more about this ambitious play before it premieres later in the month:
Bakchormeeboy: Why did Pangdemonium decide to stage Peter and the Starcatcher this year, and how does it tie in thematically to your 2018 season?
Tracie: Our season this year was Hope and Home, and Peter and the Starcatcher clearly focuses on Boy/Peter’s dreams to find a forever home. Even as an Orphan being sold off to work on a ship, he still harbours hope and finds purpose through his friendship formed with Molly.Peter and the Starcatcher is a departure from our previous work, but we really do not want to be pigeon holed as a company and want to strive to continually challenge ourselves.
We found the production of Peter and the Starcatcher to be absolutely delightful, it has such joy and inventiveness and is absolutely silly and absurd and yet clever, a real hoot. I would describe it as Monty Python meets Airplane meets Adventure Time, definitely not just a kid’s show, but also show for adults who have their inner kid intact. Pangdemonium is often known for its irreverence and it is certainly intact in this show.
Bakchormeeboy: As director, you’re quite literally the captain of this ship. What has been the most unique challenge faced in directing this production different from your past works?
Tracie: This show is so completely different from anything we have done before, so I am having to approach rehearsals from a completely different way. Normally with our naturalistic plays I would work linearly, layering with each step forward that we take, but this piece is very physical and we are creating each moment with the whole cast becoming a multitude of different characters and objects.
So often I need to create one to two scenes ahead and then work out how to get from scene A to C, kinda working backwards. I also can’t really plan anything as the show requires the whole company to develop and create on the spot, and on top of that because it is a very physical piece we shall be moving to work on the set two weeks before we move into theatre, so the challenge is to prepare the whole show in two weeks and then put it on the set and see what works what needs to be thrown out and what new things we can come up with on the set, plus working with 11 rowdy guys it can sometimes feel like trying to orchestrate playtime in kindergarten!!
Bakchormeeboy: In the original Peter Pan, who was your favourite character and why?
Tracie: I guess I have to go for Peter himself, I love the sense of fun that Peter has and that feeling of never growing up. I think there are many times in our life where we wish we didn’t have the responsibilities that we have and could just go out and have fun, Peter brings Joy to all the children that he comes into contact with but I do love also love the complexities of the character, what he is willing to give up in order to stay a boy, he chooses fun and lightness over love. It is a big wrench for him when he makes that decision.
Bakchormeeboy: Why is it that the story of Peter Pan has endured for so long, and keeps seeing reimaginations and reinterpretations even today?
Tracie: I think it is exactly those complexities that I mentioned that makes the story so touching, it is not just a children’s story but reminds adults not to lose sight of the simple joyful things in life when you become an adult, and helps us try to strike a balance between adulting and keeping some of our inner child intact.
Bakchormeeboy: Tell us about the character you play (Black Stache), and how have you been preparing for the role?
Adrian: Because we are setting our adaptation of PETER AND THE STARCATCHER in 1885 South East Asia when piracy had largely been quelled by the Western colonist, my iteration of Black Stache is the last remaining pirate terrorizing the South China Sea. I imagine that Stache was originally a poor, homeless, and unusually hirsute orphan from Singapore, who escaped destitution by stowing away on a merchant ship in the Singapore docks bound for China.
This ship was overran by pirates, who let him live as they were impressed by the fact that even as a 10-year-old boy he already had a full beard. They took him in and recruited him as one of theirs, and the rest is history. Once he became a pirate in his own right, he quickly built up a reputation for being one of the most bloodthirsty, greedy and vainglorious pirates to plague the oceans, as well as being the owner of the most preposterously large moustache.
Having traveled the world he became enamoured with England and Anglicized himself to set himself apart from the other Asian pirates – which accounts for him frequently getting words wrong. He also fancies himself as a poet and is an unabashed drama queen. It’s a really physically demanding role, so I’ve been preparing myself for it by getting lots of sleep. Thomas (Pang) and I do all our own stunts, you know.
Bakchormeeboy: Over the years, you’ve played no shortage of roles. But has there ever been one you’d love to play but haven’t got the chance to yet?
Adrian: I’ve always wanted to play a mermaid, and I’m finally getting the chance to in this production!
Bakchormeeboy: So much of Peter and the Starcatcher is about the power of self-belief and hope in children. As a child, what was your wildest fantasy you’d indulge in while playing make-believe?
Adrian: Being a weird misfit when I was a kid, I was always imagining I was an alien who had been left on earth as a baby, and earthlings were actually an entirely different species from me, but because I was a threat to their civilisation, they had to adapt to my appearance and behaviour so as to create the illusion for me that I was one of them. Sometimes I still believe that.
Bakchormeeboy: What is it about Peter and the Starcatcher that makes it a must watch for audiences of all ages?
Adrian: At the heart of this outrageous tale of pirates, mermaids, fairies and “starcatchers” is a story about HOPE. It harkens back to each of our individual childhoods, when the world held so much promise, where there seemed to be such simple choices between good and evil, and there was a whole lifetime of possibilities to look forward to. It is a story that reminds us that we each have within our grasp the will and the ability to find a place in this world where we feel we belong, and in a time where the world is in the grip of fear and uncertainly, it carries for every single person a much-needed message of empowerment and self-belief.
Bakchormeeboy: Tell us about the character you play, and how have you been preparing for the role?
Carina: I play the role of Molly Aster, an apprentice Starcatcher who desperately seeks for her father’s approval to become a fully-fledged Starcatcher. Molly is unlike normal girls at her age who often are polite and play with dolls; instead she is little more daring, adventurous and very vocal. She is the only girl in the play and amongst a sea of men, becomes quite the leader throughout the play!
How have I been preparing for this role? Well, I definitely had to get in touch with that inner girl of mine and bring her out to play! This show demands a great deal of imagination in order for the magic to work and I absolutely love it! I mean how often do you get to play a thirteen-year-old, on a ship with gnarly pirates and magic Starstuff that can make you fly? I’d say there are lots of physical challenges throughout the show, and not just in peculiar to my role. The nature of the show requires lots of trust amongst the cast. We are often required to rely on one another physically to make certain moments happen or create certain images and I guess making sure I have stamina is something I knew I had to pay attention to, especially because Molly (even though the only girl) is a little more tomboyish than other girls and will definitely get tossed and turned on her journeys through the seas and lands with the three orphan boys. So, lots of stretches and physical warm ups!
Bakchormeeboy: What kind of role do you think most puts you out of your comfort zone, and is there a specific role like that that you’d be willing to take on as a challenge to yourself?
Carina: Hmm… very good question! I would say that comedic roles are often very difficult for me and perhaps not “out of my comfort zone” but I do definitely struggle with them just purely because I am such a giggler and will laugh if I make others laugh. It’s so silly! Or, if it’s a comedic show and I have to be the serious character? That’s the hardest! On the flipside, in comedy, making the jokes and gags can be just as challenging. Making sure the comedic timing lands and it’s actually funny to the audience? Now that takes a lot to weave and perfect.
I think any role in the Shakespeare comedy realm would be a challenge and I would be interested to take on. Not only is the comedy hard enough but Shakespeare is like, woah! You’ve got to be funny and speak in a whole different language? Now, that’s a real challenge! Especially trying not make a pompous fool of yourself but be a hilarious character organically, if that makes sense?
Bakchormeeboy: One of your aspirations is to become a voice artist for animated films. What was (or were) the films, voice actor or character that made you realize you wanted to do this, and why?
Carina: I grew up watching all that Disney, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon stuff and absolutely adored it. I do admire Tara Strong as a voice actor probably because I enjoyed watching some of the characters she voiced and also because I have a similar vocal range to her. I thoroughly enjoy this world of being able to do fun, funky and quirky imitations with your voice. I used to think that my voice was my weakest instrument because I spoke very softly, up until I got some training and learned how to use it properly. Now, I have no shame to do funny things with my voice! I recently did Pororo’s voice for a mall show and a dinosaur one, which are originally voiced by little boys. Hah! I will admit I think I do a pretty good Mickey Mouse, Bubbles and Timmy Turner impression!
Bakchormeeboy: What is the one element or aspect of Peter and the Starcatcher that really resonates with or moves you? Why?
Carina: I really value Molly’s role in all of this actually because she represents all women, both in that age and older. The play has some influences by the colonial British times and there is a clear drawn parallel between Molly’s character and Queen Victoria along with other reigning Queens before her, as a ruler of a country. How men objectified them as inadequate to rule or be leaders only because they were women. Yes, there is more of an encouragement towards equalization nowadays but men still have a bit of the upper hand and Molly tries to break this stigma especially by being a thirteen-year-old girl and ending up leading the boys throughout the show. She shows you that through perseverance and courage, girls do have a voice and they can be the hero and run, I mean save, the world! She is a real role model to inspire young girls who will watch the show and it’s a much needed reminder for them of our generation so they can carry it onwards. I fully support this model and I am humbled and honoured that I get to represent that for our audience.
Peter and the Starcatcher plays from 28th September to 20th October at the Drama Centre Theatre. Tickets available from SISTIC